Division of Responsibility: Infant Feeding

Growing Independent Eaters (GIE) embraces and utilizes the feeding principles developed by Ellyn Satter. We use them because these principles have been validated through research to improve mealtime experiences in the long-term. And that’s what we want for your child: a life-long, happy, trusting, healthy relationship with food. And that kind of long-term success starts by implementing some really important principles, starting in infancy.

Ellyn Satter is perhaps best known for Division of Responsibility (DOR), which “encourages you to take leadership with the whatwhen, and where of feeding, and (to) let your child determine how much and whether to eat of what you provide.”1 This feeding model allows the caregiver to provide feeding structure, support, and opportunities while giving the child autonomy with feeding. Now, it might seem easy to understand how autonomy might be important for older children, but the reality is that “the division of responsibility in feeding applies at every stage in your child’s growing-up years, from infancy through the early years through adolescence.”1

In infancy, the parent’s responsibility is to choose what to feed, and at this stage, that choice is pretty limited to breast milk or formula, either of which should provide your child’s primary nutrition until age one.  Your infant’s responsibility, then, is to choose when, where, how much, and how fast to eat. As parents and caregivers, you can help to guide feeding by providing a calm environment, feeding when the infant is awake and in an alert state, reading your baby’s cues, and trusting that your child knows when she is hungry and full. 

Now, it’s also important to remember that infants born prematurely or with special needs often experience feeding difficulties.  These feeding difficulties may stem from prolonged hospital stays, medical procedures, stress, hypersensitivity with regard to touch, slow to root and latch, slow to rouse to an alert state for feeding, and delayed achievement of developmental milestones.  And while these issues may provide temporary obstacles to eating well, they certainly don’t mean that all hope is lost. You can help your baby achieve feeding success by consistently feeding the same way, concentrating on the quality of feeding rather than the quantity consumed, looking for hard to recognize feeding cues, letting the infant control the feeding, and recognizing that overall development and feeding transitions may happen on a delayed timeline.

All in all, regardless of where your baby in in her journey towards lifelong happy eating, be assured that by doing your job in the Division of Responsibility, you are setting her up for a wonderful relationship with food.

Lisa Grentz, MS, RD, CD, Lead Dietitian

1The Ellyn Satter Institute. (2019). Retrieved May 23, 2019 at https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org./how-to-feed/child-feeding-ages-and-stages/